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NZ to ban military-style weapons after shooting

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New Zealand leader says there will be buyback scheme for banned weapons

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in the country's worst mass shooting, its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.

In the immediate aftermath of last Friday's shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, Ms Ardern labelled the attack as terrorism and said New Zealand's gun laws would change.

"On March 15, our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place," Ms Ardern told a new conference.

"All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday, March 15, will be banned."

She expects the new laws to be in place by April 11, and a buyback scheme will be established for banned weapons.

The buyback would cost up to NZ$200 million (S$186 million), she said.

All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.

Under existing New Zealand gun laws, a standard A-category gun licence allows semi-automatics limited to seven shots. Video of the gunman showed a semi-automatic weapon modified with a large magazine.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buyback after the Port Arthur tragedy in 1996 in which 35 people were gunned down.

Ms Ardern said similar to Australia, the new gun laws will allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers to conduct pest control and animal welfare.

"I strongly believe the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest and will take these changes in their stride."

New Zealand has an estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million firearms, around 13,500 of them MSSA type weapons.

Most farmers in the country own guns, which they use for killing pests such as possums, and for putting down injured stock. Hunting of deer, pigs and goats is popular for sport and food, while gun clubs and shooting ranges dot the country. That has created a powerful lobby that has thwarted previous attempts to tighten gun laws.

Federated Farmers, which represent thousands of farmers, supported the new gun laws.

"This will not be popular among some of our members but... we believe this is the only practicable solution," Federated Farmers rural security spokesman Miles Anderson said in a statement.

The main opposition National Party, which draws strong support in rural New Zealand, said it also supported the ban.

The changes exclude two general classes of firearms, which are commonly used for hunting, pest control, stock management on farms, and duck shooting.

"I have a military-style weapon. But I don't really use it, I don't really need it," said Mr Noel Womersley, who slaughters cattle for small farmers around Christchurch. "So I'm quite happy to hand mine over."

Mr Mohammed Faqih, a member of the Islamic clergy who flew in from California and attended the funerals for some victims yesterday, was "extremely grateful" for the gun ban.

"I wish our leaders in the US would follow on her footsteps and do the same thing, especially given our history of mass shootings," he said.

The first victims were buried on Wednesday and burials continued yesterday, with the funeral of a school boy. A mass burial is expected to be held today.

Ms Ardern will attend the Muslim call to prayer and a two-minute silence at Hagley Park opposite the Al Noor Mosque. The call to prayer will telecast nationally.

Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks.

"We will have a heightened presence tomorrow in order to provide reassurance to people attending the Friday call for prayers," police said in a statement yesterday. - REUTERS